Thanks to Australia giving Pakistan a lesson in off the ball skill and determination, let alone a humiliating 7-0 thrashing, Great Britain, as long as they held on against Spain, would go onto meet the heavily fancied Netherlands in the semi-final of the Hockey tournament at London 2012.
The question was could Great Britain show the same resolve they did in the last thirty minutes of the game against Australia to set the scene for that semi-final. The Dutch will go into that semi-final the favourites of that it can be certain. With five wins out of five in the group stages and playing the best expansive hockey from either group; the British players, should they get the required point against Spain, are going to have to go into that match with confidence at an all-time high level if they are to proceed and add yet more gold to an already overflowing total.
If it was going to happen then the first five minutes of this game wasn’t the best preparation as a slightly subdued opening made a mockery of the two European teams’ rankings in world hockey, fourth and fifth respectively. At best it could be said that the two teams were feeling each other out and probing any weakness, of which for Britain there were still quite a few to iron out in defence. At worst it could be said that neither team wanted to lose that badly that it was in danger of turning into the worst kind of stalemate.
Spain may be Great Britain’s nemesis when it comes to matches against each other with the British winning only nine of the 30 games against the last Olympics silver medallists, however with the Games being held on home soil for the first time since 1948, it should have been more than enough to drive the British contingent on. The clock ran down and ticked away annoyingly until finally with less than four minutes to play in the first half, Ashley Jackson scored his 80th goal of his career and the fifth of these Games. Great Britain finally had the advantage in the game and the group. A match against the much fancied Dutch was only one half of hockey at the Riverbank Arena away.
The break proved to be no distraction to the cagey feel about the game. Indeed the British players, perhaps mindful of the dressing down and strong words of urgency they may have had from the management team led by Andy Halliday, were out on the pitch well ahead of schedule and in eager mood. That eager mood though laudable, didn’t really transfer itself to sustained pressure. With less than 20 minutes to go and with a huge crowd urging every player on, Great Britain received a penalty corner which Jackson smashed against the crossbar r before the grateful Spanish got it away.
Straight down the other end and Spain also enjoyed the decision of a penalty corner for an infringement of the ball running up the arm. It was to prove crucial to the game as Spain made sure of the passage of play by running and smashing the ball into the net. It was also Quemada’s fourth goal of the tournament and he was looking the more relieved of the two goal scorers on the night.
This was now a real test of character for the British players and their captain Middleton. The game was swinging dangerously in favour of the Spanish, they were holding on to the ball better and when they weren’t they were holding on to the British players legs instead, for which surprisingly the umpire didn’t seem to see.
In the last ten minutes and with more and more panic set in the British back line as wave after wave after wave of penalty corners were given against them, it was only due to the colossus of Fair in the British goal that stopped Spain taking the lead. The Spanish were certainly getting more frustrated and irate as the seconds ticked down and there were also the somewhat mixed umpire decisions that helped fuel the anger to near boiling point.
The minutes became seconds and the crowd gratefully counted down the final few moment s of the game which saw Britain attain the draw that was needed to see them through.
The Netherlands will pose a much sterner test, of that Middleton and his team can be sure. For two nights though, British hockey fans can still dream of a repeat of 1988 and that elusive second gold in the modern era.
Great Britain: Kirkham, Jackson, Moore, Hawes, Wilson, Middleton, Tindall, Mackay, Lewers, Fair, Smith.
Substitutes: Martin, Daly, Clarke, Catlin, Fox.
Manager: Andy Halliday.
Spain: Cortes, Enrique, Delas, Fabregas, Tubau, Oliva, Alegre, Fernandez, Terraza, Alegre, Quemada.
Substitutes: Ballbe, Lleonart, Mir, Sallas, Trenchs.
Manager: Jose Server Fernandez.
Full Time Score: Great Britain 1 – 1Spain.
Goal scorers: Jackson (Great Britain). Quemada (Spain)
Australia 7-0 Pakistan
Argentina 6-3 South Africa
South Korea 2-4 Netherlands
India 0-3 Belgium
Ian D. Hall
Image: The Guardian